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January 4, 2014

It's about time: Expert offers tips for organizing your life

By Cathy B. Koplen Contributing Writer
The Daily Star

---- — “Time flies,” “time is of the essences,” “time is money” and “time waits for no one,” are familiar phrases, but in reality time is none of these things.

Time should be managed and accounted for, and it is generally kept by those who are running on a schedule — but keeping time is only an agreed-upon formula for coordinating happenings. 

Time can no more be kept than the passing of the seasons can be halted. But well-managed time may prevent a frenzied, last-minute push that ends up making a task take longer than necessary.

Many people in the modern world do push themselves to accomplish more than their predecessors, and in doing so often create a bombardment of tasks that are impossible to accomplish. This can create unhealthy stress.

“You cannot really manage time,” said Jan Jasper, a productivity consultant in the New York area. “We just manage tasks and information. If we are efficient and organized, we can accomplish the tasks we need to and have the opportunity to enjoy our leisure time.”

Jasper, the author of “Take Back Your Time,” published by St. Martin’s Press, has been helping corporations, small businesses and private individuals manage their tasks and information in an efficient manner since 1988.

“Every aspect of your life can benefit from a thorough examination,” Jasper said. “In the home, a center of operations is essential. Most households with children, or families with several different age groups living together, will have their operation central in the kitchen. It is important to train the family to use the space for papers and coordinating events. Usually there will be a calendar, a drop box for paper and a filing system for planning purposes.”

Jasper recommends a tickler file. This file has 43 slots used for monthly, weekly and daily tasks. Tickler files are organized by the closest date. After a daily or a weekly folder is completed, it may be moved back to the next month. When the month is complete, it is moved to the back of the files. Jasper said tickler files may be purchased at most office supply stores for about $20.

According to Jasper, two of the pitfalls experienced by most people concerning time management are procrastination and failing to plan ahead.

“Most people do not naturally plan ahead,” Jasper said. “When Friday comes, many people just want to leave their office. If they would take a few more minutes to clear their desk as much as practical, and plan for the following week, Monday would be better organized. It is amazing what people find in their desks in a semi-annual clean out. Some clients have found checks from customers so out of date they are no longer good. It can be like an archaeological site in some drawers. You need that information when it is relevant or it may be no good to you.”

Procrastination is familiar to many people. The ability to put off until tomorrow may become an art form.

“Sometimes when you put something off, it loses importance,” Jasper said. “You lose the window of action and the information or task is no longer necessary or relevant. But there are some tasks, no matter how unpleasant, that must be carried out. There are several ways of handling procrastination. You can study the components of a task and pick out a more pleasant part of the task, even if it is not the first component. If possible, do the more pleasant part of the task first; sometimes that will get the ball rolling.”

Making a practical to-do list that is visible in the work space is an important element of getting tasks accomplished. The list should be acknowledged every day, not just tacked up somewhere and overlooked. The list should be near a calendar so that tasks and information that are due at certain times will be noted on a calendar.

“A to-do list should be practical,” Jasper said. “I have seen some lists that are so intimidating it is impossible to contemplate. Make a list that you can do, cross off the things you have done. Make a new list each day.”

Waste management is another element of organizing tasks and information that can be useful. Waste management includes paper trash as well as old email messages and phone messages.

“I have had clients with thousands of old emails in an account,” Jasper said. “You cannot find anything that way. These people are afraid they will lose an important piece of information, so they save everything, and then when it is time to look for that piece of information they spend a large amount of time opening emails and rereading them. If there is important information on an email, it should be flagged or transferred to another file pertaining to the specific project.”

Jasper said it is important to be flexible as well as prepared when tasking. Those people who are rigid with their organizational process do not do well when dynamics change.

“It is not about a neat desk or a messy desk,” Jasper said. “People with a messy desk often know where everything is because they have a filing system that works for them. Some people just have to have a neat desk, but they clean it up for the sake of a clean desk. If they just stick things wherever, they will not be able to find them again.”

Another piece of advice Jasper gave those who are hoping to better manage their time is to set an alarm on a phone or computer.

“Some people just don’t have a good concept of time and they do not factor in things like travel time,” Jasper said. “It may take some effort, but if you find yourself running late all the time, find out how long it takes to get somewhere and set your alarm for that many minutes before you are expected.”

It is possible to accomplish many things in a timely manner and have the time available to enjoy leisure activities. Many people who are able to balance work and play to the betterment of their mind and body are organized and flexible.

Just as it takes effort to lose weight or save money, it take effort to manage time. But once in the habit, it becomes routine.